Last Saturday during all the high-fivin’, back-slapping and rejoicing that came with Eastern’s first touchdown, cutting Sam Houston’s lead to 35-7 early in the third quarter, a friend and row mate came up to me and provided this observation.
“No matter how this finishes, whether we come back or don’t score any more, these are our guys!”
Truer words may not ever have been spoken. Of course the Eagles did score more, pulling within 35-28 before the visiting Bearkats pulled themselves together to hold on for the 45-42 win in the FCS semifinal game at chilly Roos Field.
In the end the football program that had made late game, miraculous finishes their hallmark – including the rally for the 20-19 national championship win – simply dug themselves too deep a hole against too talented a football team in Sam Houston State University.
I salute the Bearkats, they are an excellent program and I wish them well in the title game in Frisco, Texas, Jan. 5 in their rematch with defending champion North Dakota State. May their revenge be served cold.
But the Eagles truly are “our guys.” Down by a margin many other teams would feel daunting and elect to play for pride and next week, our guys came out in the second half feeling they could still win.
Oh so close in so many ways. An errant pass avoided, a missed field goal completed, a stop on third down thwarting a drive, anything to get and keep momentum and who knows – it might be the Eagles dancing on the turf with visions of Frisco fairies in their heads.
The Eagles played for pride, yes, but their pride as individuals representing a school still trying to break out of the shadows in the local sports scene. One that is still battling to establish an identity not only on the competitive surfaces but also as an institution.
Despite all the construction, academic accolades and grants, sports success, Eastern is still somewhat of a commuter school, one where student ties are stronger off campus than on, where tradition is being re-erected and in many cases established. There are many signs it’s working, but slowly and tenuously and really only if you know where to look.
For those who don’t come to games, have some relationship through family or work with the university, Eastern is still in their minds one of those small schools just a textbook or two above high school.
The reality is much different. And it’s that reality that “our guys” were playing for as well, not just to win, but also to show people locally and on national TV what it means to be an Eastern Washington University Eagle.
It means never quit. It means you can always win.
We came oh so close that it’s still difficult to think we didn’t make it all the way back. It’s difficult that Saturday’s game was the end of the line for a great group of seniors who helped redefine Eastern football, Eastern sports and Eastern’s persona. But things are in good hands because there’s a really good group of young guys who learned a thing or two this season and are ready and able to pick up the mantle and maybe, hopefully, take it further.
Yes, there are winter and other versions of “our guys” and even “our gals” in action right now, and it’s important for fans to come and support their successes. But for me, September 2013 can’t come soon enough to see “our guys” back in action.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.